The Swiss speed duo of Beat Feuz and Mauro Caviezel finished in first and second, respectively, at the Birds of Prey Downhill in Beaver Creek, Colorado. Norwegian Aksel Lund Svindal, still recovering from a hand injury sustained during training at Copper Mountain, finished third, 0.08 seconds behind Feuz.
“Today was a special race because of the changing weather,” said Feuz through a translator at a press conference after the race. “I have good memories at Beaver Creek and I’m happy to make the podium today, too.”
Atomic athlete Caviezel, who finished 0.07 seconds behind Feuz continues to impress after his third place finish in the Lake Louise Super G last week. “I like [the Birds of Prey course] a lot, this is a special place. It’s my first podium on downhill so I have to like this place,” he said after the race. “I tried to take some risk to ski good. [My podium finish] was a little bit of a surprise for me.”
The day before the race, downhill training was cancelled due to a sizable storm that delivered six inches of snow 48 hours prior to the event, and a total of 17 inches throughout the week. As the downhill race progressed, a number of snow squalls and low clouds moved across the course, and the low visibility and soft snow proved challenging for many athletes. The course was also shortened to the reserve start, eliminating the first flat section and launching racers right into the steeps out of the start gate.
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After winning this event for the past two years, Svindal explained how the shortened course and conditions worked against him. “It’s a tight race with some changes in the snow and changes in the visibility,” he said. “Last year was the perfect day for ski racing. This year was a little tougher. The first part of the course is where I took the time to beat [Feuz]. This year we didn’t ski that.”
American Bryce Bennett of Squaw Valley, Calif., dropped out of the gate wearing the number six bib, just after Svindal and just before Feuz. He would finish tied for ninth with fellow American Steven Nyman, of Park City, Utah.
“I was really hoping to go from the top,” Bennett said after his race. “But with all this snow it was tough for the [course] crew. They did a really good job, it’s in really good shape for what happened. Hats off to them.”
Regarding his start between Svindal and Feuz, Bennett was ecstatic. “I grew up watching these guys on TV, and here I am, in the mix with them, which is weird. It’s a little uncomfortable, but I think with a little bit more time, it will become more comfortable.”
Other notable American finishes included Travis Ganong of Squaw Valley in 28th, 1.11 seconds off the lead; Ryan Cochran-Siegle of Starksboro, Vt. in 32nd, 1.26 seconds behind the winner; Thomas Biesemeyer of Keene, N.Y. in 42nd and 1.54 seconds off the lead; and Wiley Maple of Aspen, Colo. in 51st and 2.17 seconds off.
“I didn’t do a really good job of absorbing that terrain and it just kind of squashed me and put me in the backseat… I had to throw it sideways for a split second for the last part, just ditching speed and ditching time,” Cochran-Siegle remarked about his race. “These next few days I have a really good shot of skiing well and being in there so I’m just going to do my best with that.”
“It was dark and a little bumpy, but nothing crazy” said Maple at the end of his race, who was the 56th skier on the course. “I’m glad that we didn’t start at the top. That top flat is just wasted time I think. Everybody is just sitting in tucks and whoever has the fastest skis just gets the fastest split up there.”
Tomorrow, the racers will attack the Super G on Beaver Creek’s famed Birds of Prey course, followed by the giant slalom on Sunday. Weather issues persist, but as long as the course crew keeps working hard enough, we can look forward to more great ski racing ahead. Hopefully the bottle of Tin Cup Whiskey that Svindal awarded the course crew after the press conference doesn’t throw a kink in the course preparations.